How do stupid ideas become popular in the cyber age?
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07 of April 2016 12:37:52
CAITLIN DEWEYTHE WASHINGTON POSTInternet memes can start anywhere and spread everywhere: That's exactly what makes them so wonderful.But there has been a wave of disturbing body-shaming memes recently, and they all originate in the same place: Chinese social networks, such as Renren and Weibo.There was the A4 Challenge, a call to prove one's waist was narrower than a standard sheet of A4 paper. The iPhone 6 knee, featuring photographs of young women's legs hidden by the six-inch screen. The underboob pen challenge, in which women hold writing utensils in the fold beneath their breasts. The belly button and collarbone challenges, both geared toward demonstrating the challenger's thinness.The latest viral fad, called the 100 Yuan Challenge, involves photographing yourself as you wrap the six-inch bill around your wrist. There hasn't been a spate of body memes this bad since the era of the bikini bridge.Like that meme, which originated in the United States, this latest batch has an obvious goal: to promote a body image that, for most women, is neither healthy nor attainable. But when we asked Marcella Szablewicz, a professor and researcher at Pace University who studies Chinese Internet culture, she had a secondary theory: Perhaps the popularity of these memes is fueled, to some extent, by class divides in the Chinese economy.
After #iPhone6 & #A4WaistChallenge, 100-yuan-note-wrist challenge becomes new skinny craze among Chinese women pic.twitter.com/qcb1hYLqSe— China Xinhua News (@XHNews) April 3, 2016While some academics and Chinese viewers may understand those subtexts, however, these memes have far more literal meanings in Europe and the United States — where they're promptly snatched up by diet forums and Tumblr communities as goals, or "thinspiration."That sort of fad worries health advocates, who fear that body-shaming memes normalize eating disorders and other unhealthy behaviors. Multiplestudies have linked adolescent Internet use, of any kind, with low body-image. And just last month, a study published in the journal Social Media and Society found that women who look at a lot of fitness boards on Pinterest are far more likely to intend to "engage in extreme weight-loss behaviors" than women who aren't spending time with those sorts of posts."People with poor body image who are at risk or actively struggling with disordered eating tend to fixate on particular body parts; there is nothing new about those obsessions," Claire Mysko, the head of the National Eating Disorder Association, told The Post in 2014. "What is new is that coined terms like 'thigh gap' and 'bikini bridge' — and the news articles, images, hashtags and social media comparisons that come with them — have given those obsessions larger and more competitive platforms."Unfortunately, this latest spate of body-shaming memes only illustrates how large and influential those platforms can be: It now takes mere days for a craze begun on Weibo to reach everywhere from Windsor to Sydney.